Monday, 13 April 2015

The Last 90% of Transpiration

It's been rather busy the last few weeks. After the first draft I handed in early March, there followed comments that needed to be processed, a few sources that I was able to includes thanks to ebooks and a kind intervention by professor Stephen Summerfield who sent me something in advance.

Last week I finished the second draft and last revisions, while also contributing to the introduction, work on the illustrations and commenting on a chapter by a co-author. Excitement alternates with menial tasks, like checking spelling and the correct recording of notes.

The guy in the portrait, Hans Christoph Ernst von Gagern, was part of the 10% inspiration. Gagern was the representative for the German interests of Willem Frederik, Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands, at the Congress of Vienna. He formed a team with baron Spaen van Voorstonde, who represented Willem Frederik's Dutch interests.
Gagern's letters to Willem Frederik (some in German, most in French) cover a lot of ground during this period: from the negotiations over the extensions of the Netherlands to the tussle with Prussia over logistics and big power politics. So I used him to explain parts of that to the reader, rather than to tell it myself.

This weekend I was able to breathe again, but now it's back to the bibliography (which means I don't have to worry about the indexing!). So any of you wondering about a publishing career, know that the 10% inspiration part is no understatement.

Luckily I have experienced editors before and I was able to make mine a coach rather than an opponent. I've also had great help from my more experienced co-authors, so that I've been relatively chilled out during the process.

My boss at work also has been very understanding of my unpredictable working hours, especially since I created more trouble for myself by diving headlong into the Kingdom of the Netherlands project and some other things. Colleagues have been very supportive all round and I've promised to give a presentation on the book once it's done. Nice opportunity to practice!

It's not done yet. As said, the bibliography needs doing, a well as the last bits of illustrations and then the conclusion and the proof reading. Then there will be the promotional activities, for which the rumours are promising, but nothing definite yet.

Will keep you posted!

Slowly, my mind is able to contemplate a period after the book is finished.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Story of a Map

One of those instances where work and hobby coincide! A few weeks ago I considered doing a tweet with a thematic map to commemorate the birth of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on March 16th 1815. It is an interesting episode because it happened in the pressure cooker days after Napoleon had returned from Elba and it included at that time most of the area we now recognise as Belgium.

My take was to create a map of the Low Countries in 1815 and link it to data from our historical collection on the 1815 census. I though that sending out a tweet with the map would be a nice gesture and likely to get picked up by the media.

I set out searching for a shapefile (a file that holds the spatial information of the map, like borders of provinces) of the Low Countries in 1815 at the time but found none. Then I thought it might be possible to stick together maps of the north and the south into one map, which is what we ended up doing in two stages. I managed to find a shapefile of the north for 1815, and on the assumption that the current Belgian provinces were much like those in 1815 my colleague in the mapping department stuck  the two together. I was SO thrilled with the result.

And so were some of my colleagues, who suggested not just a tweet but a short article, using more data and adding more maps. I set to work on that, despite the fact that I would also have to hand in my two chapters for the Waterloo book this week. That was pretty stupid.

In my enthusiasm I showed the maps to my Belgian stepfather who immediately spotted some necessary changes: in 1962 a number of municipalities was exchanged between Flanders and Wallonia to conform to the language divide, and in 1920 the Belgian took an area on their eastern border including Eupen and Malmedy from the Germans as a compensation for damages in the First World War. And a few minor others.

Just as I was contemplating defeat, another Belgian connection, a very kind historical geographer from the University of Ghent, stepped in and offered the right historical shapefiles for Belgian provinces in 1815. The colleagues at the mapping department stuck those to the north (and a current shape of Luxembourg) and voilá!

The colleagues also suggested doing a storymap application which has turned out pretty awesome as well.

I struggled through the week, working on the article, the map and the book at the same time. Occasionally it looked like it would fail, but on Friday it all came together in the end: chapters went to the publisher, article was finalised and approved and the storymap finished. Much relieved and tired.

So on Monday: cake for the great people that did the mapping. They are awesome!

Monday, 9 March 2015

NYR for first half of 2015

Seeing the general success of the NYR for 2014, I thought I'd set myself some NYR for 2015. But it posed conflicting challenges, which I finally resolved by making separate sets of NYR for both halves or the year.

So first half of this year is fairly simple: The Book needs to be finished. In June. So that's fine. I need to read some books towards that goal (and no distractions!) and I have allowed myself two blog posts per month. That feels more like a challenge now than I thought it would be a month ago.

But the second half of year should be some kind of happy time where I intend to completely scatter my attention over a multitude of smaller projects. I've set myself the following goals:

  • 2 small paint projects
  • 6 games I own that need to be played
  • 25 games I own need to be found a new home
  • Lead pile must be reduced by 25%
  • 25 books read, 
  • there will no longer be a ban on buying new books
  • 12 blog posts
  • 1 big project to be started
  • Project Essen 2014 (4 games still need to be played)
  • Project Satan (I want the games I received from Secret Satan in 2013 and 2014 played)

Part of the fun in the coming months will be in deciding what the projects will be. I am already drawing up lists!

Monday, 2 March 2015

NYR 2014, the Reckoning

So I've been meaning to look back on 2014, which was a crap year in many ways but also one that may make 2015 one of the best. How did I do with my gaming New Year's Resolutions for 2014?

The Book: I wanted to get 85% of it done, so most of the writing by December. That didn't happen, but 70% was good enough, and next time I can do it more efficiently.

Books read: that proved a serious challenge but I feel I came very close taken all the articles I also read during this period. I had hoped to use Goodreads to keep track of all my reading but it is no good when it comes to old and non-English books. I just didn't feel like adding those manually.

Books bought: I banned myself from buying new books on subjects other than Waterloo and was pretty consistent. What I did buy were some books by people I know personally and a bunch of new Ospreys (which were allowed, I think).

I organised one megagame which was the side project. It pained me a lot not to put on a megagame later in the year when invited to, but it was a wise decision.

New games played: I came a long way, even including the one game I bought last year. But past October my focus and priority shifted to other things.

Old games removed: ditto. Just didn't get round to it.

Essen games played: I managed to play all the Essen 2013 games before Spiel 2014! I have also played quite a few of the games I bough last year.

Shifting focus also impacted on books I wanted to remove. I picked quite a few from my shelves but I didn't get rid of them, so they are still in stacks on my floor.

Lead pile reduction: I gifted my German 1940 paratroopers, which have found the best possible home as they've been painted and used in the brilliant Ypenburg demo game.

Finally, I rationed myself to one blog post per week but went way over that, which is fine.

Next post I will look at my aspirations for 2015 (yes I know it's long started).

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Surprises and Weaknesses

Okay, a nice surprise and bit of weakness here. Last week I received a package that I didn't expect but proved to be the last instalment of the Kensei Indiegogo from last year.

Some excellent sculpts in there but no idea how I will ever get it painted.

But it all fits very well with the Okko skirmish game and miniatures I bought a few years back (the game has 2D cardboard cutouts rather than miniatures), and could easily tie in with samurai. I expect there to be a flood of second hand samurai miniatures in a few years when the Ronin hype has passed.

The weakness is that I fell for the Conan kickstarter. I played the game at Essen and it has real promise, while the minis are beautiful and plenty. So it was good I did away with the ban on buying new games. That was quite the easiest NYR of last year.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Out of Sight

But you are not out of mind. I've been meaning to post stuff, but now that I'm working again, time is very short and deadline for The Book is fast approaching.

So a little snippet from what I've been working on.

Nice to find a letter from the Prince of Orange to his dad on June 13th 1815 saying all quiet on the western front.

Obviously in his best handwriting! The letter is no great discovery, but a nice lieu de mémoire.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Secret Satan: The Strike Back!

After all the hurt inflicted on me by the Dark Lord I was overjoyed to see that I'd been able to do similar damage somewhere in SoCal, the imaginary land that is home to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, The Eagles and Charles Manson.

Have a look here.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas 1989, part II - Under The Sound Of Flutes

That samewinter I wrote a song, inspired by the feeling that something momentous had happened and how it had shaped my generation (although in hindsight it somehow seems to claim that we youngsters had made it happen). 

These are the words:

This is our time
Our place is here and now
We have all the names
To write in the history books

We break away the walls of our time
Just like 2393 years ago
And we sing under the sound of flutes
That this will be the beginning
Of freedom for the world

It was a reference to Xenophon’s Hellenica, an attempt to finish the history of the Peloponnesian War started by Thucydides. The war between Sparta and Athens ended after almost 30 years in 404 BC with the defeat of the latter and the destruction of the great wall that connected the city with the harbour of Piraeus, thus ensuring that as long as Athens’ naval power remained, the city could never be starved by a land army. In the end, the Spartans did just that. This is how Xenophon described the occasion:
“After this Lysander [the Spartan admiral] sailed into Piraeus, the exiles returned, and the walls were pulled down among scenes of great enthusiasm and to the music of flute girls. It was thought that this day was the beginning of freedom for Greece.” *

There was such a sense too in 1990. A great sense of optimism and hope. George Bush later talked of a new world order, Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history. And how I felt, you can find here.

As I studied in the 1990s, that hope was quickly turned to dust. The new world lacked order and saw humanitarian intervention turn to disaster in Somalia, genocide in Ruanda and ethnic cleansing in an imploded Yugoslavia. And that was before the War on Terror. But by that time I had already become a cynic. When I heard the news of the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995 I couldn’t believe it. “They can’t have been this stupid! It would change everything. They’d lose the war.” But it had happened, and they lost.

By 2003, when discussing whether the US were right to attack Iraq, I didn’t believe there really were weapons of mass destruction, while my promotor couldn’t believe the Americans would lie about it.

For some people the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of communism in Europe will not have much significance, but for those whose heart was lifted by that occasion, and who spent the end of that year looking on the future with hope, only to lose it in the face of disaster and genocide, I ask you to reach back to that feeling of 25 years ago. Even if the world seems as dangerous a place as ever, in Eastern Europe the people are mostly free and mostly much better off than 25 years ago. Some things have changed for the better. There is, in fact, reason for hope.


ps I never said the lyrics were particularly good

pps The long walls of Athens were rebuilt a decade later. Just saying...

ppps I'm not equating Athens with the Soviet Union. But it is an interesting change of perspective from the usual assumption in Cold War parallels with the Pelopponesian War that Athens = democracy = The West and Sparta = dictatorship = Soviet Union. There is certainly a case to be made that the Delian League was an evil empire and Sparta was a restrained leader of a 'coalition of the willing'. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas 1989, part I - The Christmas Time Blues

It’s been 25 years since an amazing year. After month of protests all countries of Eastern Europe broke free from communist oppression. The last to do so was Romania, and it was touch and go whether it would erupt in violent civil war. Starting from Timisoara, the wave of protests spread throughout late December until a few days before Christmas, dictator Ceaucescu was booed off a balcony during a speech. On Christmas Day he and his wife had been arrested, tried and executed.

It was my last year in school. I had known nothing else than Cold War, although there was talked of detente in the 1970s and the 1980s saw glasnost in the Soviet Union. But there was also Afghanistan, there had been the threat of Soviet invasion of Poland in 1981 and there were always nuclear missiles. I had been protesting against nuclear missiles several times in the last years. I had had discussions on simultaneous or one-sided disarmament. All that I knew, and all that most people under 50 knew at the time, was Cold War. And suddenly it was over, and what was more, we’d ‘won’.

That year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I went on camp with a few dozen kids from my school. The last evening was traditionally closed with some improvised theatre performances, and we came up with a version of Ali Baba and his 40 bandits. In this case, the story ended in the bunkers of the Securitate, Romania’s infamous secret police, where the soldiers were waiting for the Leader to give the sign for the great counter attack. Hunched by the radio, on Christmas eve, in came the call from the Leader’s HQ. The soldiers crowded around the loudspeakers so they could hear his message. It was now or never, what was it that the Leader would ask of them? There came his voice, crackling through the static…:

“Soldiers, long have you been loyal to me and in all difficult moments I knew I could count on you to stand by me. Now is such a difficult moment… But, I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do. I’ve got the Christmas time blues.”

And my friend Jorin set in the chords for a slow and wistful blues. I think that night we sang it dozens of times that night.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Secret Satan Has Arrived!

Look what I found under the Christmas Tree today!

With not a little trepidation I removed the paper cover, revealing the dread...

NOOOOOH... not Beowulf! I was haunted by the Curse of the Returning Game! I gave it away a few years back, because.. because... well, because KNIZIA, you know?

Clearly, Satan knows.

Well... at least the rules were included. Not very Secret Satan 2014, but I count my blessings.

Hoping against hope that Satan was pulling a trick on me and just storing a box load of goodness inside, I delved further into Pandora's box...

Well, definitely Beowulf, then. Sigh. But hey, look at that! At least it seemed like there was something to compensate for the hatefulness that is Knizia.

Oh yes! There's a Lupin III comic: Satan knows I love that game! And then there's the Remember Tomorrow near future RPG! Satan knows I love near future RPG! And knows that Remember Tomorrow is the title of the episode of Jonathan Meade's show that I love. Satan is, it bears repeating, a man of wealth and taste. Obviously I haven't been all good this year

But there was also a reminder of the fact that I've been a good guy. Some computer games, showing that Satan knows I never play computer games unless I'm in between jobs or retired. Full Throttle, The Thing, The Unwhispered Word... well, I guess I'll have to be more of an asshole next year.